Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and councillor Joanne Charles say people need to hear the “echoes” of their ancestors. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Semiahmoo First Nation embark on oral history project

‘The truth needs to come from us’

Semiahmoo First Nation leaders are embarking on a project to document their history in the bay.

While how best to capture and share the echoes of their ancestors hasn’t been determined, the importance of the endeavour is beyond words, Chief Harley Chappell told Peace Arch News.

While Canadians are marking the country’s 150-year milestone, “Semiahmoo, we’re celebrating 10,000 years of survival and resilience,” said Chappell.

The project is “so the voice and the words of our old people are documented forever, for our children.”

The idea grew during development of a website for the SFN, through which the need to preserve and “bring some clarity to our actual history to the bay” was realized.

“The residents of this bay… they don’t know who the Semiahmoo people are,” Chappell said. “In today’s day and age, that’s important.”

He and councillor Joanne Charles said much information that is in the public realm regarding the Se-mi-ah-ma is incorrect, or missing the historical context from the SFN. Many don’t know that the band was once 100,000 strong, or why the population has diminished to just 91; or that the main village used to be across the bay.

It’s hoped that hearing it from the band’s elders will fix that, and spread awareness.

“It’s allowing residents to remember that this community here is alive and well and has a very rich and vibrant culture,” Chappell said. “That we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Chappell was elected SFN chief last December. He replaced Willard Cook, who had held the title since 1996.

In a January interview with PAN, Chappell addressed the perception of there being a “great divide” in the community, and said he wants to build on and honour the work of past Semiahmoo leaders as the nation moves toward some of the “heavy lifting” of improving its infrastructure and maximizing its land and business partnerships.

That catch-up is 50 years’ worth of work, he said in an interview earlier this month.

In documenting the band’s history, by comparison, “we could go back to the Ice Age.”

Charles said part of the education will come through the band hosting and partnering on events where traditional dances, songs and history can be shared. Last week’s Aboriginal Day events in Surrey’s Bridgeview was one example, and another opportunity is in the works for the August long weekend.

She noted that the leaders of today are not just leading for today. What is or is not done to protect the traditional territory will impact the next seven generations, she said.

Chappell said the project is about “having an accurate portrayal of who we are – not a watered-down version, not a Canadian school district (version).”

And that, he said, can only come from the Se-mi-ah-ma themselves.

“The words that we share are just the echoes of our grandparents and great-grandparents,” he said.

“In the era, in the time of truth and reconciliation, the truth needs to come from us.

“Nobody else can tell our story but us.”